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  • angiehuddart

Milestones or Millstones?

So my sixth month anniversary of opening passed me by unnoticed and I'm so disappointed in myself for not recognising I had reached that first milestone. After all of my sleepless nights in the concept and planning stages of Angi Lou, I had always envisaged a spectacular celebration of my first 6 months trading. I didn't doubt for one second that I would survive six months but I had no idea how successful my achievements might be. Whilst it was always a pipe dream to offer Champagne, canapés and VIP invitations to what I hoped might be a loyal, growing customer base, I can actually reflect with a huge amount of gratification that I made it this far. My welcome onto the high street in Tickhill has been overwhelming, I have a whole new circle of "friends" that make every day in the boutique the most pleasurable working experience I have ever encountered. I have literally had a "coffee morning" most days with ladies who have become my friends. I have exchanged experiences of grief, angst, joy and pain with relative strangers which is the most gratifying feeling. I have shared experiences of the challenges and achievements life can throw at you including my own personal experiences of Cancer, loss, love, divorce and children. This, I believe, has hugely contributed to the success of Angi Lou Boutique because from the minute you enter, everyone comments on it's welcoming feeling, the delightful scents, the palettes of colour, the ambience, the relaxing environment we have created. So six months on it is only natural that it would also be a good time to reflect on lessons learned, the high's and the lows, what I would do differently, the things I am most proud of. Well, never in a million years did I envisage I would be sat here documenting my thoughts with the single biggest challenge thus far being something I had absolutely no control over.....COVID-19. Every part of my planning had so far come together. A very successful launch, continued growth in sales, an ever expanding social media platform, very few buying faux pas, less than a handful of faulty goods or disappointed customers, building great relationships with fashion agents and suppliers, employing a member of staff in order to have proper days off, regular buying trips that fuel my excitement for the boutique and drive my desire for success. I enjoyed a wonderful traditional Tickhill Christmas with all that entails, the local businesses coming together to create a vibrant spectacle of colour, smells and sounds. Exceptional sales for the first few months of trading enabled me to take my annual holiday in January when traditionally retail goes a little sleepy as people tighten their belts for what seems a never ending month before the next payday. It was therefore the perfect time for me to close for almost two weeks, and spend time with my husband and friends playing golf in Thailand. On our return I would re-open with our first seasonal sale and we would then look forward to the Spring stock arriving. The Spring stock had been selected months earlier and was the first real test of my buying skills. Had I pitched it right, had I anticipated correctly who my customer might be, would people actually embrace the brands and styles I was bringing to my little village boutique?

Thailand was a really enjoyable holiday, a long, long way to travel but nonetheless a fun experience and we played some great golf courses and had a great time with our friends. It was during our last few days in Thailand that I first became really aware of something dreadfully worrying that was happening not too far away in China. The first visual clue that something was seriously wrong was when we boarded the Eva Airline plane on 26th January ready to come home. Several passengers in the queue to check in wore face masks. As we took our seats on the aircraft we noticed that all of the cabin crew were also all wearing surgical face masks. The feelings of fear were somewhat surreal, surely this was a huge over reaction? What on earth was the potential impact of this little known virus that had first been reported in China? As we stumbled into February, the rumblings of what I have since learned was called Covid 19 began to evolve. There was a definite uncertainty beginning to emerge. As my stock began to arrive in its droves, the stock I should have been so excited to unpack, customers slowly retreated into their own little worlds and my angst and anxiety began to heighten as the UK began to fall victim to this indiscriminate, deadly disease for which there is no cure. I wrestled with thoughts of whether I should remain open as the restaurants and cafes in the village were told to close their doors. These places were the heartbeat of Tickhill. Next it was the hairdressing and beauty salons that turned around their door signs, leaving notices in their windows advising their customers they were "closed until further notice" I continued to disinfect surfaces, sanitise clothing and washed and sanitised my hands between customers and when I opened by boutique on Monday 23rd March, I had a gut wrenching feeling that I could no longer risk myself and my customers wellbeing. When I arrived home that evening I spoke to my husband and made the heartbreaking decision that I too would not reopen the next day. On 24th March, the Government announced that all non-essential shops were to close. The official reality I had been dreading yet had felt somewhat relieved to hear, had finally occurred. I will not deny I sobbed. All of my hard work, my most promising season, the time when I was going to make my presence felt had been wiped out, taken from me. My dreams shattered, my pride severely dented, my presence on the high street thwarted. How on earth was I going to overcome this?

With the initial announcement was the timeline of three weeks before a review. Three weeks didn't sound too bad. The weather was pleasant and warm, I had been working so hard that maybe this was just a short time to reflect on my achievements, gather my thoughts, reshape my vision and celebrate just how far we had come. I told myself that three weeks closure was do-able. Like most other women, I threw myself into cleaning out cupboards, cooking and baking. We have enjoyed great food, copious amounts of alcohol, late nights and board games. I dragged the Wii out of the cupboard, ordered myself some gym equipment and began to embrace a little time out. My social media platform became my only way of reaching out to my customers and as my emotions rode what has since become, the Covid rollercoaster, I have posted the odd sales pitch but predominantly tried to keep up customer spirits posting words of encouragement and hope.

As my hair roots darkened and twinkled in the sunlight with my "natural silver highlights" I celebrated my first, and I hope, my only birthday ever, in lockdown...eek...49!!! And then I got to thinking.....I CAN do this (my late mum used this encouraging phrase a lot with my son when he was little) and sure enough, at 2am on Saturday 18th April, a strange time I know, but my thoughts turned to not "can" but "how" I would do this. That morning is now a complete blur as I threw myself into operation "Angi Lou Virtual Boutique". Using my social media platform, I just threw it out there that I was going to bring Angi Lou straight into your home. Get yourself ready for drinks at five! If we can't go "out out" then let's stay "in in" and I will come to you! My stomach churned, my nerves in tatters. I am a confident, outgoing individual so why was I so anxious? Well, because it could turn out to be a huge failure. What was I going to say? who was going to watch? The numbers of viewers will pop up on the screen...I just didn't want to know. Whether there was no-one watching or 10 watching the pressure was still there, it was very real. Then I had a glass of wine, calmed myself down and remembered my mum's words of encouragement, "You CAN do this" My husband gave me the thumbs up....this is it..do or die!

I remember hearing my own trembling voice, I felt emotional and vulnerable as I paid tribute to the NHS and the key workers that are propping up our country. I have lots of former NHS colleagues and many of these had themselves purchased from me recently. I realised we are all in the same boat, everyone has their mental struggles, we are all at the mercy of this dreadful disease and if what I am doing can bring just one positive to any one of them then I must do it and do it well. With that I stepped up my game, brushed my nerves aside and did what I do best....talk clothes!! Just over half an hour flew by, I had potentially shown my regular customers how we can continue to trade during lockdown but also had the potential to reach out to new customers, demonstrating who I am, what the boutique has to offer and why they might want to come when lockdown is relaxed. Angi Lou Virtual Boutique was born and I have to say, once I relaxed, I too, thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the feedback received has been phenomenal, never mind the increase I have seen in sales and from customers old and new. It has cemented firmly in my heart that we have found our niche, our customers like what we have to offer and the how we offer it. No pressure, no hard sell, just my years of training in presenting a product and selling its features and benefits gained in completely different environments, combined with my passion for clothes and a genuine interest in people coming to a rewarding fruition. So back to what the intention of a six month self reflection should have been about, the trials and tribulations of opening a new ladies boutique, the rights and wrongs, the lessons learned, this all pails into insignificance and the only task that lies ahead is for not only my boutique but for my lovely friends, family and customers to survive the disaster that is Covid-19 and get my beloved little shop back open again soon.

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